Posts Tagged 'spiritual gifts'

The Master Multiplier, Part 5

We all enjoy getting presents. Whether it’s at Christmas or for our birthday or some other occasion, who doesn’t like ripping open a gift? And most of us like to give gifts; we get a lot of joy and satisfaction watching the other person opening their gift from us. It’s just built into us, I guess. As we get older, it becomes harder to buy a gift for us. And even though we could have bought a certain item, it feels good to receive it as a gift from a friend or loved one. It makes us feel a little special and we realize that we mean something to them.

God is the giver of perfect gifts. He gives us gifts that we can really use. Starting with the gift of His Son, God continually gives gifts to His people. We’ve already looked at some:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. (Acts 17:24, 25 | TNIV)

God gives everyone life and breath and, as Paul said, “everything else.” That’s a stunning declaration that some people have a difficult time dealing with. God gives life but He also sustains life. You’re alive today because God is keeping you alive. You woke up this morning because God decided to give you another day. Think about that!

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7 | TNIV)

Here Paul was referring to his evangelistic efforts. He was a great preacher – one of the best that ever lived, yet he acknowledged that he was just one of many doing the work of God. As God gave opportunities, Paul planted seeds of faith just like a fellow like Apollos did, but ultimately it was God who was bringing about salvation in men, not Paul or anybody else.

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 | TNIV)

God gives all of us victory over death, hell, and the grave through Jesus Christ. Death doesn’t have the last word! We do! That word is “victory!”

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 | TNIV)

In times of difficulty and stress, God promises to give you wisdom if just ask Him. Wisdom is the one thing we all need more of, and if we ask God, He will give us more than enough. He gives perfect perspective, allowing us to navigate through all the twists and turns of life.

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”. (James 4:6 | TNIV)

And God gives us even more grace – He gives us an over-abundance of grace. He never gives just enough, but always more than we think we need.

But then, we read of this gift in 1 Peter:

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11 | KJV)

God gives abilities with which we may serve Him. Think about that for a moment. God makes us able to do that which He asks of us. Yet how many of us face the prospect of serving Him with fear or doubt? We always think “the other guy” can do it better than we can. Well, according to Peter, that’s baloney.

Let’s consider what Peter meant when he wrote of these abilities from God, because as always, there much more going on than meets the eye.

Be like Christ – Suffering

In various ways, Peter had been writing about suffering; that is, suffering on account of the faith. He was writing to people who were suffering various degrees of persecution, and his purpose was to show that this kind of suffering was inescapable; that the best way to deal with it was to be prepared for it. In chapter 3, Peter wrote about Christ’s suffering for us. Of course, our Lord not only suffered for us, but He also died for us. As a Christian, how do you respond to that? According to Peter, here’s how you should:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin. (1 Peter 4:1 | TNIV)

That’s right; we should have the same attitude as He did. We need to think and reason and respond to suffering or persecution as He did. Peter covered that a couple of chapters back:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21 – 23 | TNIV)

According to Peter, when we suffer barbs of criticism because we follow Christ, or indeed if we are persecuted to a greater extent because of our faith, we are “done with sin.” That’s a funny thing for the apostle to say. While it sounds like he is saying that “persecution drives the sin out of us,” that’s not at all what he is getting at. It’s really the other way around: Because we are “done with sin,” we are now facing various kinds of persecution. Or, another way to put it might me: Because you are now taking your faith seriously and have stopped this sin or that, you will face mockery or jeering or worse forms of persecution. Your new life of faith and holiness makes you a target!

But your attitude through it all should be that of Jesus. The Christian who keeps the faith and remains true to Christ during persecution does not do evil. He doesn’t fight back, for he will withstand persecution as Christ did. Consider this:

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53 | TNIV)

That’s right. Jesus could have called on thousands of angels to get Him out of the predicament He was in with the Jewish religious leaders and with the Romans. But He didn’t. He faced it. He submitted to His captors. Christ never gave evil for evil, and the Christian who has the attitude of Christ toward suffering will not strike out against his persecutors.

Be Like Christ – Purpose

In verse two, Peter contrasts two philosophies:

As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:2 | TNIV)

The person who doesn’t know God or knows God but isn’t serving Christ is not living for the will of God but does everything he can to fulfill his own human desires, which more often than not run contrary to God’s will. But the true believer’s goal in life is to accomplish God’s will and he actively finds ways to do just that. In verse 3, Peter touches on some of things that the believer used to spend his time doing:

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. (1 Peter 4:3 | TNIV)

It’s amazing how much time you have on your hands when you aren’t trying to find a party to go to or recovering from the party you were at the night before! Before you were saved you did those things, but now you don’t. Another amazing thing happens when you start taking your faith seriously: You’ll probably lose some friends. And it likely won’t be your idea:

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:4 | TNIV)

Really, what Peter is talking about here is living a life of holiness – separated to God, though not physically separated from the world. You still have to live in this world of sin, but living for God means you don’t participate in all the things the world thinks are so great and necessary. The people you once spent time partying with or, as Peter might have said, “sinning with,” may not be interested in God’s will and because they likely won’t understand it, maybe they’ll “heap abuse on you.” It’s illogical to be sure, but who said sin in logical?

But when you get to thinking they’re right and you’re wrong, remember these words:

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5 | TNIV)

That’s right; they may live like there’s no God and like they aren’t responsible to Him for the sinful choices they make, but it doesn’t matter what they believe: There is a God and they will stand before Him and give an account of how they lived their lives and, more importantly, why they rejected Him. And before you think there are exceptions, know this: Every human being, at some point in their lives, will be given the choice to serve God. That’s Peter’s point in verse 6:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6 | TNIV)

Peter uses the term “dead” to refer to individuals who heard the presentation of the Gospel – who where given the choice – while they were living, but now at the time he wrote this letter are now dead. The point is that these individuals had heard the Gospel, but they rejected it.

Be Like Christ – Service

Fortunately, not all people reject the Gospel. A great many accept it and their lives are good examples for us to follow. The rest of the world may live like there’s no end in sight, but the truth is, there is an end coming:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. (1 Peter 4:7 | TNIV)

Christians ought to be clear-headed and see things with a God-given perspective so that they may pray more effectively. See how important prayer is? It’s linked to how you perceive your world. If you’re so dull-witted that you think everything is hunky dory, then your prayer life will probably be lackluster, boring, and a waste of God’s time. However, if you begin to take your faith seriously, pretty soon you’ll start to see your world the way God does, and your prayers will reflect that. Your prayers will become serious prayers that God takes seriously.

However, a believer can’t just pray all the time without a thought to other members of the church. Prayer is important, but so in maintaining a good relationship with other believers:

 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:8, 9 | TNIV)

Love exists between believers, or it should, and we ought to love each other “deeply.” That’s a good word but it’s not the best. Other translations use the word “fervently,” but even that word isn’t strong enough. The Greek word carries the idea, for example, of an athlete straining his muscles in an effort to win his race or reach his goal, or of a horse running at a full gallop. It’s an intense word that suggests an intense effort. More important than any other thing, believers should practice love for each other fervently. According to John, this how other people know we are true believers:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7, 12 | TNIV)

This kind of deep love, Peter says, “covers over a multitude of sins,” which is an awkward way of saying that as we love each other the way Christ loves us we will forgive each other. It’s not that love excuses sin or hides it, but rather forgives it. This kind of love accepts the person just as he is, faults and all. This does not imply that the local church should never deal with gross sins, but that the Christian should never hold past sins against a brother who has turned his back on those sins.

Use your gift(s)

And that’s the background that gets us to God’s gifts to us:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10 | TNIV)

It’s not a coincidence that Peter mentions using one’s gifts from God right after a discussion about loving each other. Spiritual gifts need to be used within the context of love. Whatever gift or gifts God has given you, you are to use them in love. God gives us gifts in love and He expects us to exercise them the same way. Peter briefly mentions a couple of those gifts in the next verse, but his point is that without your spiritual gift or gifts operating in your church, your church will suffer.

If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11 | TNIV)

Now would be a good time pause and examine your own life to see if you are using your God-given gift or gifts to benefit the Body of Christ. Getting by in this world of sin isn’t always easy for the child of God but He has given us the tools to not only get by but to live in victory in spite of circumstances. We owe each other in the church love and the faithful exercise of our spiritual gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By the Numbers, 2

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Last time, we talked about the big census taken of Israel and the fact that the Levites were to be excluded from that census because God needed people to care for His Tabernacle and tend to the religious needs of the people and His priests. The Levites would not be counted upon to fight for Israel. But is was essential that each Israelite knew who he was and to what tribe he belonged.

Another reason for the big census was to organize the people for their journey. It is here, as at no other time in Israel’s history, that the first steps toward nationhood were taken. Prior to the census, Israel was very loosely knit and resembled a mob more than a nation. From this point on, however, there would be a definite structure to the camp and an “address” for each family of each tribe.

The interesting part of the story is that the people of Israel were divided up into four camps or neighborhoods by God Himself. The order and placement of the tribes had nothing to do with birth order or size. The tribe of Judah went first, but was the fourth son of Jacob and the tribe bringing up the rear was the largest tribe of all. The position of each tribe is of moral significance and full of spiritual meaning and application.

It is significant to the placement of each tribe that they surrounded the Tent of Meeting. The people were to never forget that “God was in the midst of His people” no matter where they found themselves. This is also significant:

Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting. (Numbers 2:2 NKJV)

Let’s examine each standard of Israel and find out why they are important to us, today.

The standard of Judah, Numbers 2:3 – 9

Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun were the fourth, fifth, and sixth sons born to Jacob by Leah. It is common knowledge that Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son, so it is surprising that these tribes were the ones to lead the other tribes.

“Judah” means “praise the Lord.” That’s probably why they were to lead the way. The importance of praise cannot be overstated. The psalmist knew this:

Hallelujah! Yes, praise the Lord! Sing him a new song. Sing his praises, all his people. O Israel, rejoice in your Maker. O people of Jerusalem, exult in your King. Praise his name with dancing, accompanied by drums and lyre. For Jehovah enjoys his people; he will save the humble. Let his people rejoice in this honor. Let them sing for joy as they lie upon their beds. Adore him, O his people! And take a double-edged sword to execute his punishment upon the nations. Bind their kings and leaders with iron chains, and execute their sentences. (Psalm 149:1 – 9 TLB)

Yes, the “praising camp” should lead the way. Praise is the first, most obvious sign that a soul is right with God. When a believer thinks more highly of himself than is reasonable, there is no praise. Praise comes when a believer sees himself in light of God’s righteousness and holiness; when he sees an accurate picture of himself. Pride and praise don’t go hand-in-hand; humility is essential. It is only we see our own needy and guilty state, and by faith lay hold on God’s mercy and the all-sufficiency of Christ that we can praise God with a sincere heart.

Yes, they knew about him all right, but they wouldn’t admit it or worship him or even thank him for all his daily care. And after a while they began to think up silly ideas of what God was like and what he wanted them to do. The result was that their foolish minds became dark and confused. Claiming themselves to be wise without God, they became utter fools instead. (Romans 1:21, 22 TLB)

True, genuine praise can stop that from happening. It keeps the our focus where it should be: on God, not on ourselves. Praise keeps our priorities straight; it keeps our lives in proper perspective. Most of all, though, praising God keeps our minds clear.

Praise is indispensable in the life of the Christian. It may be all about God, but the benefit is all ours.

The standard of Reuben, Numbers 2:10 – 18

On the east was Judah, and to the south were Reuben and the tribes associated with it. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn son. “Reuben” means “behold a son.” Of all the relationships possible in life, sonship is the best relationship a believer can have. After praise comes the testimony of true sonship. All believers are children of God, but not all have the close relationship required in sonship. No wonder the testimony of true sonship follows praise.

How can you tell if a believer has a relationship as close as sonship demands? They are the ones whose lives are full of praise to God.

So, dear brothers, you have no obligations whatever to your old sinful nature to do what it begs you to do. For if you keep on following it you are lost and will perish, but if through the power of the Holy Spirit you crush it and its evil deeds, you shall live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And so we should not be like cringing, fearful slaves, but we should behave like God’s very own children, adopted into the bosom of his family, and calling to him, “Father, Father.” (Romans 8:12 – 15 TLB)

Not every Christian can do this. Only those who have learned to yield themselves to the Holy Spirit within them. Only those who are living disciplined lives for God are able to praise Him as sons.

The standard of Ephraim, Numbers 2:18 – 24

To the west we have Ephraim the tribes with him. We might call this the “Rachel Neighborhood.” “Ephraim” means “double fruitfulness.” Abundant fruitfulness is sure to come after true praise and a life of devoted sonship. Bearing fruit is essential for the believer, it’s not an option even though a lot of Christians think it is. In the Kingdom of God, it’s not normal for a Christian to be barren; to be fruitless. In fact, it’s so abnormal there is only one cure:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1, 2 NKJV)

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.(John 15:6 NKJV)

That’s pretty serious! And it’s an expectation the Lord for all of us. We are to bear fruit. But how does that happen? Abundant fruit will definitely come after praise and a life of sonship. We praise God not because we are fruitful, but because in the atmosphere of praise, fruit will grow.

Under Jehoshaphat’s guidance, the people were able to sing and praise God and THEN He gave them the victory.

Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. (2 Chronicles 20:22 NKJV)

They praised God and He blessed them. We modern Christians have it all backwards; we won’t praise God until He blesses us. The next time you have a need or if you’re just feeling down, start praising God. You won’t feel like doing it, but do it anyway.  And when you do, you won’t believe how good you’ll feel.

The standard of Dan, Numbers 2:25 – 31

Finally, on the south-side came Dan and his tribes. “Dan” means “judging.” Of Dan it is said:

...they shall break camp last, with their standards. (Numbers 2:31b NKJV)

It’s not insignificant that the ones who “judge” come last. The privilege of judging isn’t for all. It’s the last thing a believer should be doing, only after he’s spent time with God in praise, in a life of consecrated sonship, staying connected to Jesus like a branch is to its vine.

What does all this have to do with us?

By finding and keeping to their designated places, the families of Israel were taught some important lessons vital to their survival as they embarked on their journey across the desert, facing perils of all kinds. They were taught discipline; taught to keep their places whether marching or standing still. They were taught to depend on each other for protection on all sides. They were taught to keep looking up – to keep their eyes on the standards and to pay attention to the voice of their leaders. And they were taught whether they were marching or standing still, they were following the will of God.

But the most important lesson of all was this one: Yahweh was their Covenant-making God and He was the God who fulfilled His Covenant and He, Yahweh, must be central to their lives.

That’s why the Tabernacle was in the center of the camp. It was put their by God’s design to be the intersection of all the day’s activities. It was to be the major focus of their attention; an ongoing reminder that God was with them, leading them and commanding their worship and authority.

As Christians, we are not Israel. We don’t have tribes or a Tabernacle. What God told them He isn’t telling us. But at the same time, we’re supposed to learn something. God is still in the business of making covenants with His people. He makes promises and He keeps them. By now, the children of Israel knew who they were and they knew their place. Do we? Do we know to Whom we belong? Do we know our place in the Kingdom? Is God at the intersection of our daily activities?

All believers, all members of the Body of Christ, have their appointed place.

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit. Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. (1 Corinthians 12:12 – 14 TLB)

When God put you in the Body of Christ, you were put there to serve. You are part of the church to do something with the spiritual gifts God has given you. As you exercise your gift or gifts, you are serving God in the place He has put you. Do you remember a woman called Dorcas? She was a seamstress; she made clothes. That was her place and her job in the Kingdom.

But Peter asked them all to leave the room; then he knelt and prayed. Turning to the body he said, “Get up, Dorcas,” and she opened her eyes! And when she saw Peter, she sat up! He gave her his hand and helped her up and called in the believers and widows, presenting her to them. (Acts 9:40, 41 TLB)

Why did Peter do this? It was because members of her church came and found Peter and begged him. Dorcas, a woman whose only talent was sewing pieces of cloth together but who used that talent in the context of her church, was seen as being so indispensable to the church that its members sought out Peter so that he would come, pray, and bring her back to life!

Find your place in the Kingdom – in your church – and be faithful to it. Do what God has called you to do.

The Body of Christ

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1 Corinthians 12:12-31

The human body is the perfect metaphor for the Church of Jesus Christ. If we were to quickly scan this twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we’d see that in the first half he wrote about the Holy Spirit and the various spiritual gifts He distributes among believers. In this second half, he writes, not about individual members of the Church but of the Church as a whole – a single unit. He doesn’t use the body metaphor to push some kind socialist agenda or the notion that our individuality vanishes when we become Christians. Rather, the human body is a living organism made up of many “parts” or “members.” Similarly, the Church is like a body, specifically the Body of Christ, because it also is a living organism, made up of many and diverse “members.” Not only that, man is the hands-down crowing creative achievement of God – the most wonderful and glorious of God’s creations. So is the Church. This fact is lost on most Christians, by the way. A recent survey gives some startling and sad information about church attendance in America.

Numbers from actual counts of people in Orthodox Christian churches (Catholic, mainline and evangelical) show that in 2004, 17.7% of the population attended a Christian church on any given weekend.

(http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html?p=1)

That’s just pathetic. Less than 20% of Americans actually attend services regularly. We have a real problem here.  This, despite the fact that a majority of Americans “claim” to be Christians!   Of course, attending church services in no way makes you a Christian. However, getting up on a Sunday morning, leaving your home, and going to a church service is a powerful witness to your neighbors.

There are tons of good reasons for regular church attendance, in addition to the fact that the New Testament urges Christians to. But that’s a subject for another post. For now, let’s consider the Church as the Body of Christ.

The Church is one Body

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV84)

Recall that up till now Paul had been discussing individuals within the church and the gifts the Spirit had given them. Now it’s as though he pulls back the camera lens to focus on the forest rather than on the trees. He refers to the “forest” of believers as a “body.”

The main point of this verse is that there is just one body – one unit – made up of many parts. Think about what that means. A body with two heads would be a monster. There can only be one Head of the Church, and that’s Christ. There may be many churches, but there is one Christ.

…so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV84)

Individual members may have different gifts, but they are all brought into unity under Christ. Dods comments:

The same spiritual life exists in all Christians, derived from the same source, supplying the with similar energy, and prompting them to the same habits and aims.

Each member is united by one Spirit

For we were all baptized by none Spirit into one body… (1 Corinthians 12:13a NIV84)

Now, how does a person become part of the Body of Christ? This verse tells us. It’s not referring to being baptized in water, as some sacerdotal churches teach. Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that makes us part of the Body of Christ. You can see that the Holy Spirit is an indispensable member of the Trinity! He’s often neglected, but thank God for what He does in us and for us. He lives through believers (gifts of the Spirit), enables believers to live God-glorifying lives (fruit of the Spirit), and He makes believers part of the Body of Christ.  You may become part of a local church by confession of faith, but you become part of the Church by an act of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:63 NIV84)

The Body of Christ includes every member

…whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13b NIV84)

In other words, all Christians share in the fellowship of Christ. Regardless of color, social status, location, sex, or gifts, all believers are “given the one Spirit to drink.” That’s Paul’s fancy, artistic way of saying all believers are able to have close communion with Christ through His Holy Spirit.

This is an amazing declaration, when we consider it. There are those members of the Church we think are closer to God because of their position within the Church. The pastor, for example. He must be closest of all to Christ. Sunday school teachers and elders must surely be closer to Christ than the average member. Not so, according to Paul. Regardless of the gift a member may possess – from the splashy, obvious gifts church leaders may exercise, to the almost unseen and always under appreciated gifts of the prayer warrior, all are able to be as close to Christ as the Holy Spirit makes possible.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13 NIV84)

There is no distinction between the worship leader and the sound man and the treasurer. All believers were once “far away” and we’ve all been “brought near by the blood of Christ,” not by our talents and gifts.

Each member has his own function

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (1 Corinthians 12:18 NIV84)

A foot can’t do the work of a eye. An ear can’t do the work of a hand. The liver does something the heart can’t do. There are many different Spiritual gifts and God has blessed His church with a diversity of gifts as He sees fit. God is the One who sovereignly distributes the gifts of the Spirit as it pleases Him.

And here’s why attending your local church is so very important. All believers – all members of Christ’s body – have been given spiritual gifts to be used in the church. You don’t use spiritual gifts in your office or your classroom. The gifts are specifically given to bless and minister to other members of the local church. If you are part of the majority of church “members” who do not attend church regularly then you are robbing the congregation of something God wants it to have.

You may not have a splashly spiritual gift, but don’t be discouraged! Be a part of the congregation and do what God has enabled you to do for the good of that congregation. And if you don’t know what your gift is, pray that God will show you. All believers have a spiritual gift – at least one! Find out what yours is, jump in and let the Spirit use you in your church. If you are a member of Christ’s Body, there is something you should be doing for Him. Find out what it is. A useless member is a betrayal of Christ’s character.

All members are interdependent

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21 NIV84)

Here’s an admission that you will seldom hear from any of the majority of church members who lay out of services week after week: each member of the body needs the help of the others. Yes, as hard as it may be for you to admit, you Lone Ranger, self-made Christian you, you need the rest of us. In fact, you can’t survive without us.

When members of the church lose their sense of unity, they’re heading into rough waters. Those who may feel inferior may just wander out of the church never to be seen again. Those who feel superior to the rest of us may lose their sense of spiritual values and perspective and become hypocrites who talk all-day long about God while they have virtually nothing to do with Him or His church.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable… (1 Corinthians 12:22 NIV84)

The English “weaker” comes from the Greek “asthenes,” which means “sick,” “weak,” and “feeble.” We’re not sure which members Paul is referring to, but we can guess. Who is a weak church member? Is it one who occasionally has lapses in his faith? One who may not be as Biblically literate as you are? Or how about the ones who seem to be spiritually immature? Well, hold on to your hymnals! Paul says members like that are indispensable!

...and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. (1 Corinthians 12:23a NIV84)

The “less honorable” member is not the same one as the “weaker” member. Look at another translation:

And we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while of course the parts that may be seen do not require this special care. (1 Corinthians 23b, 24a TLB)

What does Paul mean by this? Well, remember, he’s referencing the human body. Some parts of it we always keep covered for obvious reasons. And as we get older, we cover up even more! What Paul is getting at is this: The human body is built according to God’s design and so is the Church.

So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important. (1 Corinthians 12:24b TLB)

Do you get it? Referring to the human body, everybody can see your face, but you keep your private parts covered up all the time. But that doesn’t mean your face is more important that your private parts. Or how about your heart?  Nobody sees it (if we can see your heart, you’re beyond help!), but you can’t live without it!  God has skillfully blended together all your bodily organs and parts so that there is complete harmony between all them all. And so it is with the members of His Church. All its members, from the one behind the pulpit that everybody sees, to the one who vacuums between the pews week after week, are vitally important to the survival of the Church.

There is no division in His Body in His sight

…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:25 NIV84)

We must treat each member of the Church the way God sees them. Here’s how He sees them:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV84)

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called… (Ephesians 4:4 NIV84)

God sees all members of His Body, regardless of their gifts and talents, as indispensable. And that’s how we ought to see each other. We shouldn’t play favorites. The things that divide society have no place in God’s Church.

Each member should care for the other

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV84)

There is no place for jealousy or envy or strife in the Church. Because God is One, His Church should reflect that oneness in unity. There should be no divisions in the Body of Christ.

This verse describes the what real care looks like. When we love each other in Christ, the Church (including your local church) will function like a human body.

The Church is an organism. It is not a club, or a society, or a guild, or an association, or even a fellowship. To view it as such is to lower its dignity.

And yet, like those groups, the local church does have a membership roll, and a chain of leadership. If you join a local church, you have certain obligations to that body of believers. As a Christian you possess certain spiritual gifts your local church needs. As a Christian you owe Christ your dedication, commitment, and service. You owe that to His Body – from the great invisible Body of Christ in which all believers from all time have been placed by the Holy Spirit, to the local church you joined by confession of faith and promised to be loyal to.

So, what will you be doing next Sunday?

 

The Adventure of the Floating Axehead

Day1681 KINGS 6:1- 7

Elisha was a powerful prophet and a true happy warrior for God. His mentor was Elijah, and in some ways Elisha’s ministry has been overshadowed by that of Elijah. Elijah’s ministry was very public, while that of Elisha was much more private in nature. Elijah is known for some really spectacular miracles and Elisha is not. Here in 1 Kings 6, we have recorded for us a miracle under Elisha’s ministry. It is not spectacular, like calling for fire to rain down from heaven. But it is a miracle and it reveals something of this prophet’s character and that of the men he was mentoring. It’s the Adventure of the Floating Axehead, and it’s a miracle because, generally speaking, chunks of iron don’t float.

Setting the scene

One day the seminary students came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, our dormitory is too small. Tell us, as our president, whether we can build a new one down beside the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs.”

All right,” he told them, “go ahead.” (2 Kings 6:1-3 TLB)

The hypocritical Gehazi had been sternly dealt with and branded with a life-long shame and dishonor because he lied to the prophet Elisha, his employer.

Because you have done this, Naaman’s leprosy shall be upon you and upon your children and your children’s children forever.” And Gehazi walked from the room a leper, his skin as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:27 TLB)

Gehazi was Elisha’s long-time servant, and had seen the prophet minister in great power. Still, he thought he could lie to this man of God! Gehazi was hypocrite, yes, but he was worse than that: he was stupid. It’s significant that immediately following the punishment of one of Elisah’s “inner circle,” we read about an entire school of men who were undeniably faithful to the prophet.

What a clear picture of the state of the church of Jesus Christ today. There are many faithful members – members who live for and work for the cause of Christ not only in their churches but out in the community. These people take their faith seriously and they respect leaders in the faith. And yet, among these faithful, you will always find people like Gehazi; people who have sat under the same good teaching, enjoyed the presence of God, and maybe even done work for the Kingdom, but when push comes to shove, they come down the same side of the equation as Gehazi. We, the faithful, may be tempted to become discouraged or cynical as we look at how the Gehazi’s have infested the church, but our Lord has already anticipated this condition and given some good advice:

Let both (true believers and the Gehazi’s) grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles (Gehazi-like people) and burn them, and put the wheat (true believers) in the barn. (Matthew 13:30 TLB)

These “seminary students” were young prophets being taught by Elisha. Apparently this “school of prophets” started small and grew quickly under the teaching of Elisha. But it was more than just his teaching; there were the miracles. Under the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, God worked wonders to authenticate the sermons the preached. The purpose behind the miracles was primarily to show the people of Israel that Yahweh was real and Baal was not.

The fact that they ran out of room at the school shows that there were many genuine true believers in the land that felt the burden to get God’s Word out to the people. A lot of people mistakenly assume that when a church grows like this prophet’s seminary grew, that’s a good thing. This isn’t necessarily so. Commenting on the “church growth theology” so prevalent today, Bill Hull, discipleship guru, sees two flaws in its premise:

First, numbers themselves do not indicate greatness. Large groups can gather for any number of events, such as lynchings, mob riots, or Tupperware parties. The more accurate observation concerning a large church gathering might be “the number of people gathered here indicates that those leading the church–pastor and the music leader–must be highly talented.” That would be a good and generally true judgment.

The second flaw of such a superficial measure is that you have asked the wrong question. “How many people are present?” The right question is “What are these people like?” What kind of families do they have, are they honest in business, are they trained to witness, do they know the Bible, are they penetrating their workplaces, their neighborhoods, reaching friends and associates for Christ?

We’ll see that the young seminary students in this story were men of exemplary character, just like their mentor. Notice they were ready to build their own residence hall! They didn’t think twice about it. They were basically broke (they had to borrow an axe!), but they had spunk and they had a plan. They were workers – no job was beneath these “preachers in training.”

A true leader with students of great character

Please, sir, come with us,” someone suggested. “I will,” he said. (2 Kings 6:3 TLB)

This is a refreshing verse. We have here a glimpse into Elisha’s character, and that of his students. First, it shows that Elisha wasn’t above doing a job far below his calling and capabilities. Here he was, Elijah’s successor and a great prophet in his own right, going out with some students to build a house. Second, he was obviously respected and loved by his students.

But we see something else. All these men wanted was a place to live, not a palace. They knew where some logs where and that was good enough for them. Elisha didn’t tell them go and send for some cedars of Lebanon or marble or oak paneling or anything like that. They were content to use the resources around them.

And they didn’t let their inexperience and lack of resources stop them. Many pastors and church boards would LOVE to have people like this as members of their congregations! They are they exact opposite of the kind of people this little saw describes:

Once upon a time there were four men named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. But Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. But Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about it, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, and Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody did the job that Anybody could have done in the first place.

The man who lost the axehead

When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees; but as one of them was chopping, his axhead fell into the river. “Oh, sir,” he cried, “it was borrowed!” (2 Kings 6:4, 5 TLB)

Here are some things we can learn from the man who lost the axehead:

First, he lost his ability to work. The moment this man dropped the axe into the Jordan, he could no longer work; his effectiveness was gone. There’s a lesson here for all Christian workers. It is possible to lose your effectiveness for the Lord. There may be many reasons why God would allow this to happen, but we are reminded of Samson, who, on account of sin, lost his God-given strength:

Then she screamed, “The Philistines are here to capture you, Samson!” And he woke up and thought, “I will do as before; I’ll just shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize that the Lord had left him. (Judges 16:20 TLB)

Second, he lost his ability while he was working. He wasn’t lazy and he wasn’t engaged in a sinful activity, he was in the middle of cutting down a tree, like the other prophets. He was working hard, but he was working so hard he didn’t notice the axehead slipping off the handle. In other words, he wasn’t careful; he was careless. In his haste, or maybe zeal, to get the job done he didn’t notice he was losing his ability to work.

Third, he lost something that didn’t belong to him. The axe was borrowed. These student prophets were so poor, they had to borrow at least one axe and probably other tools as well. How applicable is this to Christian workers? Think about the gifts of the Spirit. They don’t belong to any Christian; they are “on loan” from the Holy Spirit, to be used in service to the Body of Christ. To help us all understand the relationship between the gifts of service God gives us and our using them properly, Jesus tells a brilliant parable in Luke 19. A king was going on a trip and he gave his fortune to three men to take of. Two of them invested the king’s fortune wisely and the king, when he came back, was happy that these men had increased his fortune and he rewarded them accordingly. The third man, though, played it safe and he didn’t do anything with his portion of the fortune. The king called him “wicked” and “vile” and he was punished – everything the king gave him was taken away and given to the man who did the best job.

Then turning to the others standing by he ordered, ‘Take the money away from him and give it to the man who earned the most.’

“ ‘But, sir,’ they said, ‘he has enough already!’

“ ‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘but it is always true that those who have, get more, and those who have little, soon lose even that.’” (Luke 19:24 – 26 TLB)

In other words, when it comes to the gifts God gives us to serve Him, we had better use them or we’ll lose them.

To this man’s credit, though, the very moment he realized he lost the borrowed axehead into the Jordan River, he did something about it: he asked for help. He wasn’t above asking for help when he needed it. He asked the man of God to help him – not to pray, mind you – but to find the sunken axehead. A lot of us who are engaged in the work of the Lord; people like Sunday School teachers, church board members, and even pastors, seem afraid to ask for help when the task exceeds our abilities or when we hit an impasse. We’re often content to whine and complain about being “part of the 10% that does all the work” and “why doesn’t so-and-so do this so I don’t have to.” Becoming discouraged, frustrated and cynical IN the work of the Lord often leads to becoming discouraged, frustrated and cynical OF the work of the Lord. There is no shame or dishonor in asking a godly person for help, like this student did.

Well, when he asked Elisha for help, he was able to carry on.

Where did it fall?” the prophet asked. The youth showed him the place, and Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water; and the axhead rose to the surface and floated! “Grab it,” Elisha said to him; and he did. (2 Kings 6:6, 7 TLB)

Elisha was definitely a man of action here. Let’s pause for a moment and read a couple of verses found in Deuteronomy. They form part of the Law and have to do with…you won’t believe it…this very problem!

If a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to chop wood, and the axhead flies off the handle and kills the man’s neighbor, he may flee to one of those cities and be safe. Anyone seeking to avenge the death will not be able to. These cities must be scattered so that one of them will be reasonably close to everyone; otherwise the angry avenger might catch and kill the innocent slayer, even though he should not have died since he had not killed deliberately. (Deuteronomy 19:5 – 7 TLB)

This law had to do with the Cities of Refuge, places to which an innocent could flee to escape an avenging family member. The point is, the example Moses used was that of a loose axehad! In the days before government regulations, apparently this was a big problem. Elisha knew the Law and he knew this student should have been more careful in his use of the axe, but he didn’t lecture him and rake him over the coals. Instead, he raced to rescue.

A minor miracle took place this day: a hunk of iron floated on the water. It wasn’t spectacular, like fire coming down from the sky or a racing chariot of fire, but it did defy all physical laws on Earth! Of course, ships and boats made of iron float, but that’s no miracle. For an axehead to float; that’s a miracle! As far as we know, the only people who knew this miracle took place were Elisha and some of his students. The sunken axehead miraculously floated up to the surface of the Jordan, was scooped up and put back on its handle and, presumably, the young man was able to get back to work.

But take care to notice what Elisha did just before the axehead floated up from the murky depths of the Jordan: he threw a stick into the Jordan. There is a great spiritual lesson here: that stick is like the Cross of Christ. Did you know Christ went down into the waters of death for you? He did! The Work He did on the Cross accomplished your salvation – it freed you from your sins and the guilt of your sins.

He personally carried the load of our sins in his own body when he died on the cross so that we can be finished with sin and live a good life from now on. For his wounds have healed ours! (1 Peter 2:24 TLB)

But along with that stunning, ultimate miracle of miracles, there are other “minor” miracles. The Cross of Christ is effective for all eternity, and for today. If you are tired IN the ministry or even tired OF the ministry, His strength can rejuvenate you. Ask for help! Let others step in and share their strength with you. If you feel like that sunken axehead, stuck in the muck and mire of life, the power of Christ through the Cross can raise you up as surely as that axehead.

SPIRITUAL GIFTS, PART 5

Wisdom from Mr. Scott: The right tool for the right job. It certainly applies to the church.

Gifts that Equip and Mature the Church

Ephesians 4:1—14

The earlier chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians deal heavily with doctrinal truths. Specifically, Paul teaches his readers about God’s saving grace as it relates to His creation and the role of the Church in achieving His will. By the time we get to chapter 4, Paul turns from the intricacies of doctrine to the believer’s responsibilities in light of those doctrines. This is pretty typical of Paul’s style: first he reveals doctrinal truths and then he proceeds to shows how to practically respond to those doctrines.

1. Unity, Ephesians 4:1—3

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Back in 1:18, Paul began to teach his readers about the hope of their calling, and with verse 4:1, he is going to show how their behavior should reflect that divine calling. Simply understanding Biblical doctrines gets us nowhere unless that knowledge moved down to hearts from our heads. Paul’s readers, and we today, need to see how those doctrines impact our daily lives.

The “calling” does not refer to the calling to ministry or to a particular occupation. Moody makes this interesting observation:

It is a call that comes to all Christians by the sole fact that they are Christians.

Since Christians have graciously accepted God’s call to salvation and been given a new life and a new relationship with God, we are obligated to live in such a way as to bring honor and glory to Christ. Essentially, our overarching obligation is to live in peace with the Body of Christ and in unity with that same Body. We do this practically by living according to what some scholars have called “the four graces of unity,” which are:

  • Humility

  • Gentleness

  • Patient

  • Love

Christians should strive to cultivate these graces in our relationships within the Church. None of these things “just happen” when we get saved; they all take work to implement in our daily lives.

When we live this way, we will be fostering a unity of the heart made possible by the Spirit of God. We should note Paul’s careful use of words: living a worthy life does not create unity of the Spirit, but it keeps the unity of the Spirit. The English word “unity” comes from the Greek henotes, and can mean several different things, but within the context of these verses we should understand that as we live in peace with our fellows in the Body of Christ, the unity (the “oneness”) of the Spirit is preserved. What is the “unity of the Spirit?” We get a clue from 1 Corinthians 12:13—

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is a greatly under appreciated gift because the Holy Spirit brings a unity to the individual—integrating all his parts (body, soul, spirit) to create a wonderfully functioning human being—but He is also a uniting bond to the whole Body of Christ. Through the bond of the Holy Spirit, we are held together in love. The Holy Spirit does all that for us, but our job is to live right, which is what Paul is writing about here.

2. The ground for unity, Ephesians 4:4—6

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Using a series of “ones,” Paul goes on to show how significant a thing unity really is. He repeats the word “one” numerous times in these three verses illustrating a deep truth, which Calvin notes:

Christ cannot be divided, faith cannot be rent.

The first group of three “ones” is :

  • One body

  • One Spirit

  • One hope

These three “ones” are connected like this: The one body is vitalized by the one Spirit, moving towards one hope.

The second group of “ones” is made up of the following:

  • One Lord

  • One faith

  • One baptism

Loyalty to one Lord results in commitment to one faith and is symbolized by one baptism.

Finally, Paul writes that there is only one God, and He is the Father of us all. This echoes something written by the Old Testament prophet Malachi:

Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? (Malachi 2:10)

In the Old Testament, God was the Father of the Israelites, but now in the New Testament, He is the Father of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. Paul’s point: God loves unity, therefore we ought to live in unity.

3. Gifts given to help, Ephesians 4:7—13

God is such a loving heavenly Father! He demands certain difficult things for us to do—like living in unity—and He gives us certain gifts so that we are able to that which He demands of us!

All members of the Church are gifted in some way so as to be active participants in maintaining the unity of the Spirit within the local church. That’s the point of verse 7:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

The “grace” given is not saving grace, but is related to “charisma,” spiritual gifts given to believers, like those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. Each believer’s “grace” is given by Christ as He decides. Not all believers receive the same gifts or the same number of gifts. Christ’s distributes them as He sees fit.

Verses 8—10, a quote from Psalm 68:18, is the scriptural proof for what Paul just taught. The source of the gifts given to the Church is the ascended Lord. The setting of Psalm 68 is uncertain, but the original setting pictures the Lord triumphantly returning to His Sanctuary after defeating Israel’s enemies. He had taken booty from the battle and Had given it all to His people. Christ, then, is the sovereign conqueror (destroying death, hell, and the grave) carrying the spoils of His conquest, and giving them as gifts His to His people. It’s all a very poetic way of saying that Christ is sovereign and that He gives gifts to members of His Church as He sees best.

The precise nature and purpose of these gifts are given in verses 11—13.

Apostles. To the Church, Christ gave the apostles. In all likelihood, this particular gift is restricted to the Twelve and to Paul. This gift is traditionally seen as a “foundational gift,” given to help establish the Church.

[The church is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)

Prophets. This gift, along with the previous one, probably ended with the Apostolic age. There were a dwindling number of prophets in the New Testament, like Agabus (Acts 11; 21), Philip’s daughters (Acts 21), and the men in Acts 13, but with the giving of the spiritual gift of prophecy any member of the Church can now engage in the prophetic ministry.

Evangelists. These are itinerant preachers who move from church to church, from group to group, preaching the Gospel. Paul was such a preacher, and we have evangelists today.

Pastors and teachers. In the Greek, this is actually a single grammatical unit. The teaching of God’s truth is the foundation of all pastoral care. The job of the pastor-teacher is to feed the flock and teach the Word.

4. The purpose of these gifts, Ephesians 4:12—14

…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (verses 12, 13)

To prepare God’s people for works of service that will build up the church. The implication is that evangelists and pastor/teachers are given to the Church to train the members to do “works of service.” There is an expectation that every member of a congregation will be active within their local church in some way that will be to the benefit of the Body of Christ.

To encourage maturity. While it may sound like Paul is saying believers will become prefect, verse 13 is not teaching this. A “built up” church is one that is maturing or growing in the faith. The “unity in the faith” and “the knowledge of the Son of God” are the means of growing in the faith. When a congregation assembles together in unity, placing their trust in Christ, learning about that same Christ, their relationship with Him will deepen as well as their relationships with each other. “The whole measure of the fullness of Christ” refers to the Christlikeness that ought to characterize each believer. In other words, even though a congregation grows and matures together, individuals within that congregation should be manifesting their own personal spiritual growth.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (verse 14)

Even though these special gifts may be in use in a church, there will be dangers to be avoided. Even the most spiritual of believers, endowed with and using his spiritual gifts, must be on constant alert against false teaching and false teachers.

Naturally, we won’t be completely mature or perfectly reflect Christ’s nature until He comes again (1 John 3:2), Paul indicates there should be a “measure” of tangible Christlikeness in each believer.

3. The goal, Ephesians 4:15, 16

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

The ultimate goal of these gifts (or ministries) is to encourage steady growth among believers. Unlike the kind of scheming false teachers mentioned in verse 14, those who are true believers, using their gifts in the proper fashion, will minister to their people in love. There is another way to render verse 15 that should be mentioned:

Instead, speaking the truth, in love we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

It’s a minor change, but it does serve to illustrate how we should be growing in faith: in love. In other words, love would be the means by which God’s people grow into maturity (Bruce).

The analogy of the body growing up into the Head is a difficult one to understand. Scholars have pointed out the fact that in relation to the rest of his body, a baby’s head is very large. As the baby grows and develops, his body is essentially catching up to his head in terms of proportion. This sounds like a common sense way of looking at this analogy.

Speaking of “the body,” is it grows and matures properly, it will function as it should, each part under control of the head. Under the control of Christ, the members of the Body of Christ will function is complete harmony together.

If we could summarize this section of Ephesians 4, we would acknowledge that Paul sees the unity of the Church as organic, not organizational. Real unity is not enforced by a church constitution, but is the result of a congregation maturing in the faith, yielding to the Holy Spirit as He gifts its members. Only when this happens does the Church grow in the beauty of perfect symmetry.

THE “PENTECOSTAL” EXPERIENCE CONTINUES

On the great Day of Pentecost, God chose 120 men and women to fill with the Holy Spirit and then He scattered them all over the known world. The Spirit fell on that group of believers just as Jesus, and even the prophets, had said He would. In a master stroke of irony, the Spirit fell in the very city that rejected Jesus! Thanks to the indwelling of the Spirit, the church grew in leaps and bounds in those early days, often with thousands of converts joining after hearing a single sermon. It was the Holy Spirit that emboldened and empowered those early Christians and the result was nothing less than extraordinary.

The modern church faces a tremendous challenge and opportunity. All Christian denominations pay lip service to the Holy Spirit, and a lot of them don’t recognize what He can do for them beyond conviction of sin. The Holy Spirit is just as real today as He was back in New Testament days. There may have been only one “Day of Pentecost,” where He fell in such a dramatic way, but God still wants His people to have there own “pentecostal” experience with His Spirit. Certainly every single believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. But there is a further experience some believers never get to. This experience, which some call “the baptism in/of the Holy Spirit,” comes to those who seek a deeper walk and relationship with God. Just as those 120 were seeking God and praying in that Upper Room, so we, too, must seek God with purpose and determination. When we do that, God will meet us and we will experience His presence and power in our lives like never before.

1. New converts receive the Spirit, Acts 8:5—17

The Samaritan Crusade, verses 5—8

Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. (vs. 5)

Here is the second deacon used by God in a wonderful way, and we see the Church growing exactly as Jesus had said it would: beginning in Jerusalem, then reaching Samaria. What drove Philip to a city in Samaria was persecution back in Jerusalem. Had those believers in Jerusalem not faced certain doom, some scholars think they would have never left. God took a bad thing—persecution—and used it for something very good: to spread the Gospel.  These lay preachers that left Jerusalem took the Word of God everywhere they went:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (vs. 4)

The word translated “preached” is euangelizo, one of Luke’s favorite words. It means “to announce good news,” and surely the Gospel is the best of all news. These first century missionaries didn’t walk around worrying about the persecution back home, they talked about the risen the Christ to anybody who would listen to them!

Samaria was the name of the capital city of the old Northern Kingdom of Israel, and Samaira proper was rebuilt by Herod the Great and renamed “Augustus,” although according to Josephus this city was often referred to as “Samaria” by the Jews. To these Samaritans, Philip “proclaimed” Christ. The verb is in the imperfect, meaning preaching Christ was all Philip did; he did nothing else while he was there. Like the Jews, the Samaritans were looking for “the Christ” to come.

Philip’s preaching was accompanied by great manifestations of the supernatural. These miraculous signs seemed to be quite common during the early days of the Church’s expansion. Why was this so? The Gospel was first preached among the Jews, and their distant relatives, the Samaritans, but later on the Gospel broke out of the Jewish world to penetrate the Greek world. Of these two cultures, Paul made this observation:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom… (1 Corinthians 1:22)

The Jews (and Samaritans) needed those “signs and wonders,” and God met their need. But the Greeks weren’t looking for the miraculous; they were the philosophers and the educated, and what they needed was good teaching. God met their need through the apostle Paul’s towering intellect.

The Sorcerer’s Encounter, verses 9—13

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great… (vs. 9)

Simon the sorcerer was also known as “Simon Magus.” Justin Martyr, also a Samaritan, wrote that Simon Magus was famous among the Samaritans of his day and greatly respected and revered. In fact, some Samaritans regarded Simon as a “god!” As the Gospel advanced in Samaritan, Simon Magus believed and was baptized.

Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. (vs. 13)

In light of verses 18 and 19, a great many Bible scholars conclude that Simon was more impressed with the man Philip and his apparent power than with God. Simon was the very first “religious racketeer”; a man who thought he could make a buck peddling miracles. It seems that Simon already had some kind “power” which caused people to follow him. This brings us to an interesting point: can unbelievers work “signs and wonders?” The answer must be “yes.” Consider these verses:

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. (Matthew 24:24)

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Corinthians 11:13—15)

The Spirit Received, verses 14—17

Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (vs. 17)

When the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem heard about this Samaritan revival, they had to go and check it out. What they found there were many genuine believers—true converts to Christ—who had been baptized but not filled with the Holy Spirit. These new Christians had not yet had their own “personal pentecost.” Clearly, as far as the apostles were concerned, all Christians needed to have an experience with God the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion.

Verse 17 declares that when Peter and John laid hands on them and prayed, these new Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit. While some scholars teach that they received certain gifts of the Spirit, this is not what the text says. The Samaritans were filled with the Holy Spirit after their conversion. This incident in Samaritan is very significant because it shows us that at some point after conversion, a Christian may receive another experience: the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

2. Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit, Acts 10:44—48; 11:15—18

A new chapter, 10:44—48

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. (vs. 44)

As chapter 10 begins, we meet a man named Cornelius, a Gentile who believed in God and had heard about Jesus Christ. He was not a Christian yet, but well on his way. God, working as only He can, was busy: God told Cornelius to send for Peter and God told Peter to go and see Cornelius.

When Peter began preaching at Cornelius’ house, the Gentiles started believing then the Holy Spirit fell on all where were listening to the sermon. The Greek suggests that the Spirit came upon the people when Peter said this:

...everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (vs. 43)

At that moment, when the people heard the essence of what salvation involves, it was as though the water broke through the dam, flooding the valley! This outburst of the Spirit’s power filled the people—they manifested one of the gifts, tongues—and this astonished Peter and the six Jewish Jewish believers gathered there.

Later on, at the Jerusalem Council, Peter compared what happened to Cornelius and those in his house—a “Gentile Pentecost”—to the first Pentecost:

God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:8—9)

Notice that they received the Holy Spirit and God “purified their hearts by faith.” Not only do we see another pentecostal experience, but we also have a good example of what is known as “entire sanctification.” These folks found Jesus as their Lord and Savior, He cleansed their hearts, and Holy Spirit came in like a flood.

Another problem, Acts 11:15—18

This was new. Things were getting out of control. The “mother church” back in Jerusalem had been hearing all about these moves of God among the Gentiles. To these Jewish-Christians, God was doing a new thing. A church-wide meeting was called to discuss what God was doing. Peter, defending what God was doing in the Gentile world, concluded his dissertation:

So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God? (vs. 17)

Indeed, there is no good answer to that question. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is difficult to explain and understand, but that doesn’t make it any less real than other things God is doing. We accept all of God’s gifts by faith, not always fully comprehending them.

3. Disciples receive the Spirit, Acts 19:1—7

This incident opens Paul’s third missionary journey, and it’s such a curious incident that we wish Luke had supplied more details. In his Gospel, Luke tells us that John the Baptist began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3), and within a short period of time he was arrested and eventually beheaded (Matthew 14). With the rise of the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist’s ended. And yet, here in Acts 19, some three decades after the Baptist’s death, we find a group of people baptized with John’s baptism, whom Luke refers to as “disciples.”

A new doctrine, vs. 1—4

Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (vs. 2)

It’s impossible to know exactly who these disciples were or where they came from, but one thing is certain: they were genuine Christians; they were born again.

The whole passage indicates that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a “second work of grace.”

When asked about the Holy Spirit, these believers indicated that they had never heard about a Holy Spirit. Now, they probably did know about a “Holy Spirit,” especially since John the Baptist talked about the Holy Spirit, and they were his disciples. Apparently they had heard about the Messiah and accepted Him, but they had not heard about what happened in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. They must have been a small, isolated group of Christians.

So this doctrine of the Holy Spirit living in Christians after their salvation was a new doctrine to this group of Christians, and it was up to Paul to explain it to them.

A new baptism, vs. 5—7

Here is unquestionable proof that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is most definitely a second work of grace.

On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (vs. 5, 6)

There two distinct movements here: they were (1) baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus; (2) they were filled with the Holy Spirit. As an evidence of their receiving the baptism of the Spirit, this group of Christians, like others before them, manifested some gifts: tongues and prophecy.

The power of the “pentecostal experience” was not confined to what happened to the 120 on the Day of Pentecost. As we read through the book of Acts, we see an undeniable pattern: one believes in Jesus Christ and Lord and Savior, then one receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Until that second work of grace happens, a believer does not function in the fullness of the gifts. When the Spirit is received in His entirety, the Christian will undoubtedly manifest some gift or gifts of the Spirit.

SPIRITUAL GIFTS, PART 3

The Gifts of Speaking: Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues, and Prophecy

Much of what we know about these “gifts of speaking” is found in 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. It seems that these particular gifts were at the center of the controversy Paul was addressing in his first letter to the church at Corinth. Scholars cite two main issues that are at the heart of Paul’s theology concerning the spiritual gifts:

  • The main purpose of all the spiritual gifts is to build up both the local church and the Body of Christ in general.

  • The gift of tongues is a gift that is easily abused by immature Christians.

Paul’s response to both of those issues is to stress the importance of love (chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians) in the exercise of all the spiritual gifts, but especially in the exercise of tongues. When all the gifts are used in a spirit of love, everyone in the community of faith is built up and encouraged and God is glorified.

The differences between the gifts of tongues and prophecy are stark. Tongues represents two kinds of speech: either languages that are understandable to people and utterances that are understood only by God. In the first instance, one may be given the supernatural ability to speak in a known language that is unknown to them. We see this happening in the book of Acts. It seems this gift is best used on the mission field. The other kind of tongues relates to what Paul referred to as “praying in the Spirit.” In 1 Corinthians 14:15, Paul writes about “praying with my mind” and “with my spirit.” Praying in the Spirit closely relates to what he wrote about in Romans 8:26 –

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

The “praying in tongues” edifies only the one uttering those unintelligible words.

The gift of prophecy is speech that is understood by everybody. It is a message given by an individual in the language understood by those hearing it. It is not necessarily a message about future events, and is usually given to encourage a body of believers to persist in their faith or forsake sin or a message of similar admonitions. The apostle believed that prophecy is a “greater gift” than tongues because it edifies everybody in the congregation, not just the one speaking (praying) in tongues.

When it comes to these gifts Paul was very concerned that they be exercised in an orderly fashion. The evidence of God’s presence in a meeting is not necessarily the manifestation of gifts, but rather the tangible manifestation of peace, not confusion. In all our worship services, it would be wonderful if the gifts of the Spirit were manifested, but more important than that, is that God’s peace should be felt by those in attendance.

1. The gift of prophecy

A lot of Christians are under the delusion that the spiritual gift of prophecy is nothing more than the preaching of a sermon. Still others think that the gift of prophecy involves an individual making predictions about the future. Both of these viewpoints are wrong, but also correct at the same time. The gift of prophecy involves a divinely inspired message given by a believer that may or may not have a predictive element to it but it will be preaching of the highest order.

This gift is closely related to the idea of “inspiration,” but certainly not on the scale of the inspiration of Scripture. The “prophet,” or the preacher, or the person in church speaking under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, will speak forth a message from an “impulse” of sudden inspiration. The message given won’t be the result of study or research or liturgy or curriculum. It will an extemporaneous message given under the unction of the Holy Spirit.

It should be noted that the spiritual gift of prophecy is distinct from ordinary preaching. It should also be noted that there is nothing wrong with an “ordinary sermon!” In some circles a preacher is admired if he never uses notes when he preaches because that means he’s being inspired by the Holy Spirit. In response to such silly thinking we should say that the same Holy Spirit that inspires the speaker behind the pulpit on Sunday is also inspiring him as he works throughout the week in his study behind his desk and on his knees in diligent preparation.

The gift of prophecy and the office of the prophet

As we read the book of Acts and study early church history, it seems like the gift of prophecy was fairly common but “official prophets” were rare. In fact, we can name New Testament prophets on one hand: Judas, Silas, Agabus, and a couple of others. According to what Paul taught the Corinthians, every member of the church could potentially exercise the gift of prophecy but this did not mean they were a prophet in the sense of Acts 13:1 and Ephesians 4:11.

In the Old Testament, the office of the prophet was essential. The prophets back then were men whose ministry and often their entire lives were dedicated to proclaiming God’s Word to the people. Often they predicted the future (immediate future and far future), but most of the time their messages were either rebukes in the form of “turn or burn,” “the end is near,” or words of encouragement to “hold on” and “keep the faith” because there are “better days ahead.”

However, we are not living in the Old Testament. We are in a whole new dispensation which began at Pentecost. In this present dispensation, it is the privilege of all believers to be personally led and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Scope of the gift of prophecy

This gift is definitely a divinely inspired utterance. But it is not “inspired” in the same sense that Scripture is inspired. The Bible is infallible. The Bible is the absolute final word. Any word spoken by any preacher or Bible teacher is not infallible and is not the final word. Some scholars have noted that when an utterance is given by through the gift of prophecy it is considered to be inspiration of a lower class. Whenever we hear any message given by one who claims to be speaking with the anointing of the Spirit, it behooves us to measure their words against God’s Word.

2. The gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues

Of all the spiritual gifts, the gift of tongues is the most talked about and the least understood. There are some denominations that teach unless one speaks in tongues they don’t have any of the gifts, and still others teach that tongues is a gift that has ceased to exist. So what is the truth?

Laying aside denominational biases, and taking our cue from the Bible only, it seems to be an inescapable reality that in the very early years of the Church’s rapid growth, the “gift of tongues” was needed specifically to preach the Gospel in new, previously unreached areas.

Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:7, 8)

Just after the Holy Spirit fell on the followers of Christ, they began to speak in other tongues, and the crowds of people in Jerusalem for Passover heard them, not babbling in unknown tongues, but in known languages.

From the standpoint of missionary work, the ability to speak in the languages of the people you are trying to minister to is invaluable.

However, by the time we get to 1 Corinthians and Paul’s teaching on the gifts, the church was well past its infancy. Pastors and evangelists were local men and women. So, was the gift of tongues or languages still necessary? We know that the gifts of God are irrevocable, so the answer must be yes. God has all the wisdom, we don’t, so it’s foolish for us to think that the gift of tongues is no longer necessary. And yet, in 1 Corinthians 14, we are explicitly told this:

For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 14:2)

So it seems clear that there are not one, but two uses for the gift of tongues. When necessary, a believer may be given the supernatural ability to preach the Gospel in a known language on the mission field, for example, while the other use for the gift of tongues is to pray to God in a language that is unknown to man (even to the one speaking it) but understood by God. This brings us back to Romans 8:26, which suggests that there may be times when we don’t know what or who to pray for, but since God does, He desires His Holy Spirit to pray through us, using our vocal cords.

As with all the gifts, they are to be used in an orderly fashion. Apparently in the very large Corinthian church of Paul’s day, the congregation was open to the gifts and exercising them often, but often misusing them. This was especially true of the gift of tongues, where it seemed like at any given time during their worship service, people would just break out in ecstatic tongues-speaking. Naturally, such outbursts were disconcerting to some and confusing to others. Paul’s teaching is simple:

Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5)

Paul’s point here is that in a public worship service where all kinds of people are gathered, it’s preferable to prophesy—to speak—in the common language so you can be understood by all. The value of tongues lies in what it does for the one speaking in tongues, for it does absolutely nothing for those who hear it.

But, what happens if, for example, an immature or untaught believer breaks out in tongues? What do you with that person? Or, what does the pastor do if, during the course of the service, one or two people are overheard praying in tongues? Like his teaching, Paul’s advice is simple:

For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified. (1 Corinthians 14:13—17)

In other words, speaking or praying in tongues is not meant to be done out in the open for all to hear, but in private because it is between the one praying and God. However, if, by chance, it should happen that a member of the church does exercise his gift out in the open, then they bear the responsibility to “interpret” what they said in tongues so that those who heard would know what was going on. Paul’s assumption is that the one speaking in tongues in public was genuine, and was using their gift for the right reason—to praise God—at the wrong time. In such a case, their heart would be right and they would abide by the advice. However, imagine the effect such an injunction would have on somebody who spoke in tongues just to get attention, or to “show off” their gift. This was probably what was going on in Corinth, where the gifts were misused and abused. Paul, not wanting to take any chances and quench the Spirit, put the “burden of proof” on the one speaking in tongues: if you are going to do it in public, then you had better know what you saying in tongues so you can tell everybody else who heard you.

The secondary idea is that everybody deserves to be edified, just like the one who spoke in tongues. The main idea is that there needs to be order in the church service.

3. The value of tongues

I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:18, 19)

These verses make it sound like Paul had mixed feelings about this gift of tongues. In the following verse, we get the impression that some in the Corinthian church—those abusing the gifts—were acting like babies.

However, all the gifts of the Spirit are important and valuable, including tongues. That’s he adds this:

Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is not for unbelievers but for believers. (verse 22)

The exercise of all the gifts, even tongues, even if they are misused, show to the unsaved that something supernatural is going on; that God really is present among the members of this congregation. The unbeliever may not understand what they are seeing or hearing, but they will know “God is among you.”

And that really is the value of all the spiritual gifts, and why all Christians ought to be exercising the gifts. The gifts build up the church and they bear witness to those outside the church that God is present. Be warned, however, that when a congregation has learned to exercise the gifts, they must do so in complete order. And understand that God will never force His gifts on anybody:

The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace —as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. (1 Corinthians 14:32, 33)

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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